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Posted by Todd Thomasson on Feb 1, 2022 12:11:00 PM

Being able to use your outdoor spaces to the fullest is a critical part of your investment in outdoor living. Oftentimes, outdoor living as a whole encompasses multi-area and even multi-level layouts. Connecting these landscape zones in a thoughtful way that is both optimally functional as well as aesthetically appealing is a key part of landscape design.

In this article, we’re looking at some of the best ways to connect and transition landscape spaces like walkways, stairs, and more.

Landscape Steps Ideas

Landscape steps obviously serve a valuable function of getting you from point A to point B if your landscape design is multi-leveled. Steps help to seamlessly connect these spaces so that you can climb up or down as needed.

While functionality is obviously the most important aspect of landscape stairs, there’s more to them than that. It’s important that they also look great. Thoughtfully designed landscape steps can enhance your overall project by being the perfect finishing touch. These elements can go a long way in contributing to the overall aesthetics.

landscape steps around patio
The last thing that you want is for the landscape steps to stand out like a sore thumb. Avoiding this comes down to thoughtful design incorporating everything from the proper placement and location to the material used. For instance, if you have a natural farmside or country property, but you stick a set of concrete steps in your yard, it’s going to negatively detract from the natural look.

In general, we find that in Northern Virginia, natural stone is the optimal choice for all hardscaping, including steps.

Of course, even if you choose an optimal stair material, but the steps are designed in a poor spot, it’s still going to deter from the overall look. It’s important that landscape steps are installed in an area where it makes functional sense, allowing you and your guests to comfortably move from one level to another, but also where they look great. You don’t want them plopped somewhere awkward.

Another thought in terms of landscape stair design, is whether or not a landing zone makes sense. This is something that we have incorporated into some landscape designs where there would otherwise just be one massive row of steps. This not only looks better but it gives you and guests a place to pause.
landscape steps on slope
We’d be remiss without mentioning that the spacing of the steps matters, too.

We’ve all been on awkward stairways in which the length in between steps was not well-thought-out. This can make traversing the steps feel uncomfortable and annoying, which is the last feeling you want people to have when experiencing your beautiful outdoor living space.

Just a Simple Landscape Step or Two

While we’ve been talking mostly about longer landscape stairways, these aren’t always needed. Sometimes the transition doesn’t require a full set of stairs. It may just need a few (or even just one) step. In fact, sometimes these “stepped down” areas are created intentionally as a way of further delineating one spot from another.

Stone patio steps

For instance, maybe you have a spot that’s designated as a dining area, where you and family (and friends) will enjoy meals.

But then you might have an adjacent area with an outdoor fireplace which is designed to be a relaxation spot where you can enjoy an after-dinner drink in a more cozy and intimate spot. By having this separate spot located a step or two down, it really delineates the two as entirely separate “rooms.”

Using Landscape Walkways to Connect Areas

Outdoor walkways are another incredibly valuable design tool in connecting areas. Although walkways may seem like only one small piece of a total design, in reality, they’re a very important element that hold a lot of value in how people move about your outdoor area.

For instance, landscape walkways can control the flow of traffic around your property. If you don’t want guests passing through a certain area of the backyard, you can direct the way they’ll move about with the most desirable stone walkway design for your property.

Walkway guiding guests through the landscape
Similar to what we explained with landscape steps, when it comes to the material used for your walkway, we suggest natural stone which will hold up best to the wear and tear that the walkway will receive. It also looks the best. With the natural Northern Virginia landscape as your backdrop, you want walkways to fit seamlessly into your property. Concrete walkways can stand out in a bad way.

When it comes to the design of the walkway itself, width is an important consideration.

front walkway and side walkway

You want to make your outdoor walkway at least four feet wide. This allows two adults to comfortably walk side-by-side without jockeying for a position or having to walk single file as though they were back in elementary school. Five feet wide is even better. It creates a comfortable amount of space for guests to traverse the path.

Angles are also very important when it comes to the layout of your landscape walkway. You don’t want 90-degree angles because nobody walks perpendicularly. If your design is laid out this way, people are going to just cut corners and go through your grass, which eliminates the very purpose of the walkway. You want rounded corners, but you also don’t want to make a windy path that unnecessarily leads people out of their way.

Patio to Lawn Transition Tips

Sometimes it’s the transition from the patio to the lawn that causes turmoil in the landscape design process. If not thoughtfully designed, there can be an awkward transition.

This is something that really has to be decided on a case-by-case basis as what’s going to look right for your property really depends upon the layout. Other factors such as the logistics of mowing will also have to be considered when designing the hardscape to grass transition.

Sometimes we can have grassy areas go right up to hardscaping and it looks great. But other times it’s better to create some delineation with a mulched plant bed or even by using landscape rocks.
patio to lawn transition in backyard
At Rock Water Farm, we also use borders in various ways to delineate one area from another. We might have a walkway that features a border along the grass. Similarly, if we have a hardscape patio right against a lawn, then having a border around that patio can create some separation that makes it more aesthetically appealing.

Landscape Lighting For Steps and Walkways

Landscape lighting is another really important aspect of making your different outdoor living areas look great. But make sure it’s not overlooked in your landscape design. It’s just as important in these zones as they need to be able to be safely and comfortably traversed at night.

Proper landscape lighting can be critical on your walkways and especially on your landscape steps in order to prevent them from being trip and fall hazards. Lights should be positioned in a way that it provides enough illumination for those moving along these structures to see.

walkway with landscape lighting

But it should be designed in a way that is still aesthetically pleasing. Lights can be built right into the stairs for this purpose.

Landscape lighting along walkways can be designed a number of ways. You might have pathlights as one option. However, if you have any trees along your walkways, we are often able to install downlighting (also called “moonlighting”) in the trees for a more aesthetically pleasing look. The light will shine down and light up the walkways like the moon would do. It’s a softer and sometimes more appealing option.

It All Has to Work Together

In the grand-scheme, it’s so important that all of these landscape transition areas flow well. That’s why it’s important that your landscaping design is taking the big picture into account.

Your property may require multiple walkways and landscape steps incorporated throughout the total design and it will be important that it all comes together seamlessly.

Functionally speaking, these features help connect your various landscape areas like your patio, pool, pavilion, or even your home’s entrance, so that you can easily get from one space to another. Aesthetically speaking, landscape steps and walkways can also make the space look connected and complete, assuming they are designed well (with the big picture in mind).
Aerial view of landscape with patio, pool, and walkway
The last thing that you want is for the final project to look disjointed with transition features that don’t look or function well.

Sometimes this occurs if new outdoor living areas are added to a project after the fact. This is why having a master design plan is so important. Even if you aren’t having your project all built at once, if you have a master plan to work from, the project can be phased in a way where it looks and functions optimally at each stage.

Working with a Pro on Your Landscape Design in Northern Virginia

Given the value that these transitions add to your outdoor living space, it’s so important that they are designed and built well. Working with a landscape design and build company who can look at the big picture and create a master plan (in which all these areas work together) is ideal.

If you’re thinking about creating a total outdoor living project with multiple spaces, we’d love for you to consider Rock Water Farm. We have an extensive portfolio with a lot of different ideas and ways in which we can connect multiple areas.

We also know that every project is different and we take a custom approach every single time. This gives you a finished product that not only boosts curb appeal but is also highly functional for your needs.

We have designed and built many landscape steps, walkways, and other transitions over the years, knowing full well that these are not an afterthought or a small detail, but that these features can really make or break a space. Features such as walkways and steps make your space easily traversable, therefore making it more functional. But they also add to the overall look and the experience, too.

If you’d like to talk about adding an outdoor living space with transition areas to your Great Falls, Ashburn, or Leesburg, VA backyard, talk to an expert, choose a solution that rocks, and then get ready to see your dreams come to life.

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About The Author

Todd Thomasson
Todd Thomasson

Todd Thomasson, founded Rock Water Farm Landscapes & Hardscapes in 2005. Having grown up with hard working parent role models and a strong work ethic, Todd put his Landscape & Turf Management degree from Virginia Tech into action as the lead stone mason and landscape designer for the new company. Over the years, the responsibility and opportunity of running this company has been shared with other members of the Rock Water Farm team, launching one of the leading property maintenance companies in Loudoun County. Todd is still rooted in his passion for design/build projects and continues to run the company, working with clients to design, build and maintain perfect outdoor spaces with his team.